Tony Hills Article
The first one, well, he was able to deal with that. Now the second one, that was a little much for any man to overcome, even if he is a 6-foot-6, 300-plus pound Texas brute.
So you would have to excuse Steelers rookie left tackle Tony Hills for going into what he called ‘a funk’ for a little while after breaking his left ankle which needed six screws inserted into the bone to stabilize it just two games before the end of his collegiate career.
That funk very well could’ve been caused by the thought of those once almost guaranteed first or second-round dollars evaporating into late-round money.
Or it could’ve been caused by the thought of battling back from yet another devastating injury at the worst possible time.
Just a few years prior, Hills suffered a career-threatening knee injury that eventually led to a condition called ‘drop foot’ during his last high school game that put into question whether the University of Texas would honor its scholarship offer with the then all-state tight end.
Despite showing up to his official recruiting trip to Austin in January 2003 in a wheelchair and sporting a leg-length cast, Mack Brown honored his word and Hills did, too. And he turned into an All-America offensive tackle by his senior year.
“People say they have a respect for the game,” Hills said. "But until it's almost taken away from you, you don't understand.”
After fighting through what turned out to be two years worth of rehabbing of his knee that forced him to miss his freshman year at Texas, Hills figured the injuries were all behind him. Then came the ankle injury right before he was to turn pro.
“It was depressing,” Hills said. “I didn’t get to play my final game against Texas A&M and didn’t get to go to the Holiday Bowl and who knew what was going to happen with the draft.”
But, the Steelers drafted him in the fourth round. "I am right where I need to be," he said. "The only thing I am thinking about now is the 34 fight and the 122 and 22 double. That is the only thing that is on my mind right now. Everything worked out for the best because I am here.”
Maybe Hills' mental strength is why the Steelers equipment staff handed him No. 66, which was most recently worn by Alan Faneca.
"Hopefully over the long haul I can be half the player he is," Hills said. "I was going to take whatever number they gave me. Once I got it, I knew who wore it last year, I knew I was going to keep it. I just plan on making it a number.”
Often times, players change numbers after making the team as a rookie, but not Hills.
“I don’t have any desire to change my number,” he said. “My main focus is to make sure I do what I am supposed to do. A number is just a number.”
His number very well could be No. 1 as in the No. 1 left tackle sooner rather than later. The Steelers have plans of Hills eventually taking over for Marvel Smith at left tackle possibly as soon as next year when Smith’s contract is up.
Hills is big at 6-6, but his quick feet and overall speed is what makes him so attractive to the Steelers. It is a skill Hills honed while playing soccer during his youth, and basketball as a teenager. Prior to giving up basketball his freshman year in high school, Hills was on the U.S. Junior National team.
“That has helped me with my mobility,” Hills said. “Soccer and basketball helped with quickness.”
But Hills knows he still has a lot to learn about playing offensive line. He's started only 24 games there.
“I never really had a position,” Hills said. “I have been moving ever since midget league. I started out as a defensive tackle then I moved to defensive end then tight end then tackle. Who knows where I will be in the next couple of years? Hopefully I will still be playing left tackle.”